Finding the Forest

Finding the Forest

Finding the Forest

In my career, it’s sometimes difficult to “see the forest for the trees.” As an Engineering Technician, I am typically in front of my computer, configuring the details of a plan set that a contractor will be able to read, use and, eventually, build and make a reality. I am continuously focused on the minute details of the coordinates of “proposed” versus “existing” infrastructure, ensuring that the elevations of specific items are correct, and that we have specific notes, detailed diagrams and the area data covered correctly. Through all of these details, it is easy to forget that every project I touch improves communities, lives and the wellbeing of individuals everywhere.

I had the good fortune to be reminded of this recently. I’m part of a small team currently working on a project with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to design and coordinate the rehabilitation of 20 bus stops throughout the greater Kansas City area. The bulk of the design has been balanced between Mike Shirk as the Project Manager and Engineer and me as Engineering Technician, with the assistance of Brooks Taylor, another Engineering Technician, and our highly-skilled GIS Team. Mike has been wonderful in empowering me to take a lead in the design and helped me through the process.

At first, I struggled with this project and its simplicity. I found myself wanting and needing my coordinates and elevations, my multitudes of details, and struggling to design what I thought was just a simple concrete pad.

It was during a field check with Mike that the importance of this project set in. We decided to check 10 of the 20 sites in various locations across the metropolitan area. We took measurements to cross check our design and checked slopes for ADA compliance. We verified that the design we created would work in the areas impacted.

During one of these field checks, we spoke with a very nice gentleman who was curious as to what the plan was for that specific location. We were across the street from a grocery store and the stop was on the west side of the street. There isn’t currently a bus stop in that location, although there had been some point in the past. The gentleman expressed his happiness that a stop was returning to the location. He explained that the nearest bus stops were two blocks away in either direction, and he was concerned for his elderly neighbors who have to walk so far to use the grocery store. We discussed the distance of the current bus stops and the trouble people have walking such a distance, especially during the heat of summer and the cold of winter. It was at this moment, when talking to this gentleman, that I really saw the importance of this project.

I had focused so intensely on the design of the project, the details needed to complete the project, and the deadlines that I completely forgot how important these bus stops are to those who live in the community. As a person who drives my car everywhere, bus stops don’t have the same importance to me and I didn’t appreciate how important this project is to the well-being of these neighborhoods. It didn’t cross my mind what upgrading from a bench to a shelter means to people who use these stops every day. This project has reminded me how the work we do at TREKK has far reaching affects, often in ways we don’t see, especially when we “can’t see the forest for the trees.”

Going forward, I am making it my goal and intention to think more about the way each project I work on is helping others. We are IMPROVING LIVES, one project at a time, be it by designing a sidewalk where there currently isn’t one, replacing water mains in areas where the current mains are very old, designing a new road to repair the wear and tear that occurs over the years, and even designing a bus stop. Even if something doesn’t impact me directly, there are hundreds of people who depend daily on the projects we engineer and design.

Because of the work we do, there is someone out there who doesn’t have to walk two blocks in the middle of summer or winter to get to the bus stop after grocery shopping, and when it’s raining, they’re covered while waiting for the bus to take them to work or visit family. Because what started out as a section of concrete in the beginning is much more than that to someone else.

~ Elaine Baker, Engineering Technician

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